Episode 970: A Less Rational Explanation

“I have the feeling that perhaps all of us are leading a different life in that room.”

Yesterday, eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins had a strange and frightening experience, namely: watching an episode of Dark Shadows that he wasn’t in.

He was poking around in the deserted east wing of Collinwood, opening doors and closing doors and hunting for a coffin — you know, typical Dark Shadows stuff — when he suddenly came upon a room where Elizabeth and Julia were dressed up in other people’s clothes, and talking about other people’s problems.

We’re meant to be intrigued by this strange desert otherworld, so they made use of that great guarantor of television mystery: the unheralded pronoun.

“I’m cleaning out her clothes,” says Liz. “You will not touch her clothes,” says Julia. “It will be their room,” Liz proposes. “It is hers; it will always be hers,” Julia counters.

She is dead! She’ll be back! and back and forth they went, acting for all the world as if proper nouns were prohibited by law, and then they slammed the door and ran away into the night, giggling.

It’s a good gag, if you can pull it off. Other people have trolled Barnabas in the past — like all gloomy and self-involved people, he is particularly susceptible to trolling — but I don’t think anybody’s ever done it by just standing around in a room and pretending they don’t notice him. They’re breaking new ground in the field of Barnabas-bothering.

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So screw the Leviathans, I guess; they’re yesterday’s problem. Jeb and Carolyn are married, and the world didn’t end, three cheers for that. Now they’re off on an unhappy honeymoon, and everybody else is moving on. The Leviathans tried to snatch the show away from Barnabas and Julia, but it is hers, it will always be hers.

Now we get to watch Barnabas break the news to his best friend that their world is even stranger than they thought it was. “Oh, it’s insane, but I am not mad!” Barnabas insists. Luckily, Julia’s had a lot of experience threading that particular needle.

“I believe you, I guess,” she says, settling down on the sofa. This level of belief appears to be adequate, as far as Barnabas is concerned. He’s okay with a 51/49 result, as long as he stays above water.

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Barnabas attempts a description of his experience, filtered through Fridspeak.

“Then I saw Elizabeth come in,” he says. “She went right to a closet, and opened it. There were many, many dresses there, and she started to take them out, and then you came in, and ordered her to stop! You said that she wasn’t to come in that room, it wasn’t hers, but Elizabeth said that she was dead, and you insisted that she wasn’t, that she’d come back!”

Julia gasps, and says, “Barnabas, that’s frightening!” although it isn’t, really, at least not from this altitude.

“There’s no explanation possible, none!” Barnabas cries. “And yet I have the feeling that you, and Elizabeth, and Quentin — perhaps all of us — are leading a different life in that room.” And then Elizabeth comes in and talks about upholstery.

dark shadows comic strip 1 liz terrified

So let’s take a moment to discuss the use of postulates as a storyline accelerator. A good, story-productive sensation can take you pretty far in a story like this, because it means you don’t have to mess around with silly old things like evidence, or plot points. You can just jump straight to a preposterous conclusion, and carry on from there.

They did this all the time in the Dark Shadows comic strip, where they only had a few panels a day to move things along, and the first panel was a restatement of the last panel from the previous day. So Barnabas would get all these ominous vibrations, like “All my instincts tell me… it wasn’t a wolf! It was another kind of creature!” and “I sense that you are vulnerable to the same element which killed her — FIRE!”

Postulates are also a big feature of the Gold Key comic books — “It is true! William Starbuck has returned to destroy all who bear the name of Collins!” — and the Paperback Library novels — “This could be a find — a lizard that’s somehow managed to exist for a thousand years!” — and obviously they’re used on the show quite a bit.

Dr. Woodard:  We’re still faced with the fact that the wounds on Maggie’s neck were not the bite of any animal indigenous to this area.

Burke:  You’re absolutely sure about that?

Dr. Woodard:  One hundred percent.

Woodard doesn’t actually say “It was another kind of creature!” but I bet he’s thinking it. Delivered with conviction, a good postulate can get you across the most rickety suspension of disbelief.

And it helps, of course, when you’ve got an associate who’s willing to say “I believe you, I guess.” Give me a friend and a place to stand, says Barnabas Collins, and I shall move the world.

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So that’s how you end up, one scene later, with Barnabas opening the doors in a deserted wing of the house, and Julia gasping “Empty!” which is not the surprising part.

And then Julia, determined to exert herself in the service of expressive dramatics, says, “No, Barnabas, don’t go in there, I have a strange premonition!” This means we are open for business.

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Entering the room, Julia puts on her “I’m trying to remember” face, and appeals to the usual authority.

Barnabas:  Julia, what is it?

Julia:  I’m trying to remember… I don’t know if it has anything at all to do with this…

Barnabas:  Anything might help!

This is true; Barnabas is prepared to believe literally anything, as long as it moves the scene forward. And then Julia invokes the wise old man.

Julia:  Well, I was at Eliot Stokes’ house, one night last spring. We were having a brandy after dinner, and he started talking about time.

Barnabas:  Yes?

Julia:  He was complaining that we all simply accept it. Well, we don’t have much choice, I thought. But Eliot had been reading a theory that sounded insane to me — a theory of Parallel Time.

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And then look at Barnabas’ cute little surprise face! Other people’s brandy talk is a source of wonder to him.

“Parallel Time!” he gasps.

“Yes,” says Julia. “We live on this universe in 1970, right?” He nods, of course, because that is exactly what we live on.

She continues, “We accept the fact that our time is the only time that we can truly know.” This may be true for most people, although it doesn’t apply to anybody in this room. In fact, last spring, when Julia and Stokes were having this strange postprandial seminar, Barnabas had just meditated himself back to the late nineteenth century.

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But we’re moving on to the squinting stage, where we start supposing that time is like something that time is not actually like.

“Suppose time is like a road,” she says, “and parallel to it, there’s another road. On one, we live the lives we know, but on the other road, our lives are different, because we’re in a different time band, and we’ve made different choices.”

Barnabas just hangs back and lets her continue; you can’t really stop people, once they’ve started supposing what time is like. A couple episodes from now, Stokes will explain to Barnabas that time is like a rip in his coat sleeve. Time is like a lot of things.

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“For example,” Julia says, still furrowing the b., “in that other band of time, I could have made a different choice when I was at college. Instead of being a doctor, I could have married and had children.”

Then she gasps, and delivers the conclusion. “Barnabas — you don’t actually think, through some warp in the time band, that you have actually seen us, living other lives?”

Barnabas didn’t think that, naturally, until this very second, but he’s thinking it now. We all are.

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Then they pull one of those two-handed Mulder maneuvers.

“Oh, no,” Julia says, “there’s got to be a more rational explanation,” and then Barnabas says, “Must there?” and that’s it, we’re off to the races.

That little turn in Julia’s attitude provides a moment of relief from trusting this lunatic plot contrivance, and then Barnabas ratifies it. From now on, God help us, this is a thing that we believe.

Monday: The Cleanup Crew.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas tells Julia that he saw a portrait of Quentin and David; he was probably supposed to say photograph.

Roger tells Willie, “You’re one of the few in the world who hasn’t heard. Well, delight in your ignorance, Loomis.” Then he has to stop talking while the camera shows Megan peering in at the window, and then slipping away. Roger gets a quiet offscreen cue — “Go” — and then he repeats, “Delight in your ignorance.” It’s way too long between sentences, and sounds completely unnatural. Also, the camera is out of focus.

Julia delivers some Fridspeak: “Barnabas, I know how strange this evening has been for you, but you must not feel personally about Megan Todd.”

Monday: The Cleanup Crew.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

23 thoughts on “Episode 970: A Less Rational Explanation

  1. For me the start of a new storyline was often DS at its best. When the writers established a new thread it seemed they were more disciplined. The Leviathan storyline was the exception. It was still as disciplined but the change of Barnabas into a cold villain was just too much. The PT storyline started off fine too but writing out most of the characters at the beginning so the actors could film House Of Dark Shadows almost killed the momentum.

    The actors were probably the only ones that didn’t mind since it gave many of them a chance to play different roles ..but in a modern setting as opposed to 1795, 1897, etc.

    Growing reading DC comics with its multiverse of parallel worlds I didn’t need a primer on Dark Shadows’ parallel time or trying to reconcile the continuities of the Marilyn Ross novels, the God Key comics, and the comics strip. I knew these were all taking place in alternate realities.

  2. Unless he stumbles on the word, Barnabas might really have been meant to say portrait meaning a photograph. Portrait photography was still used widely in the 1970s. The photographer my mom used to take us to for family photos said portraits.

    I just love it when I have a legitimate reason to post to my blog. 🙂 I think the definition of Alternative Universe/Many Worlds theory I did for my fanfic section might be of interest. https://glmanny.wordpress.com/manny-fanfic/primer-the-manniverse/

    “Alternative Universe – If you are unfamiliar with Alternative Universe stories, it comes from a real theory in Quantum Mechanics. Known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (aka the Evervett-Wheeler Interpretation or the Relative State Interpretation), it holds that seeing only one observed outcome is merely an illusion created by our viewpoint and that there exist other parallel universes, equally real, in which the other outcomes actually happen. To steal an image from Robert Frost, if you stand at two roads diverged, in the Many Worlds Interpretation, you would actually follow both roads, with an entirely independent world being created for each from your point of decision. First picked up by comic books, in the world of fiction, an alternative universe or AU story is one in which something has been altered from the world we know. It can be something large or small, but it is then played out among characters and situations with which fans are familiar to see what happens in the new conditions.”

    Other soaps do occasionally dip into the alternative timeline story bag, but normally for a single or handful of episodes. Although in one One Life to Live storyline apparently they changed who one characters father was to the time traveler. You probably won’t enjoy it if you didn’t watch the soap, but here is GL’s and I think you can tell it’s strange even if you don’t watch it. https://glmanny.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/alternative-universe-episode/

    1. My theory with the time paradoxes that abound in Dark Shadows is that the history-changing time traveling, especially the multiple visits to 1795-96 splintered reality to create various alternate universes. It works for some anomalies but others defy explanation.

      1. By the time this episode aired, the ‘Monster Kid’ generation had already seen the Anti-Matter Man episode of ‘Lost in Space.’ We were already jiggy with the Alternate Universe concept as a source of drama and confusion.

  3. Time is the warp of life…. Oh, tell the young, the gay, the fair to weave it well.
    JOSHUA MARSDEN

    Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
    DOUGLAS ADAMS

    Time is
    Too Slow for those who Wait,
    Too Swift for those who Fear,
    Too Long for those who Grieve,
    Too Short for those who Rejoice;
    But for those who Love,
    Time is not.
    HENRY VAN DYKE

    Time is money.
    BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

    Time is the vehicle that carries everything into nothing.
    PAUL CHATFIELD

    Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.
    RAY CUMMINGS

    Time is the measurer of all things, but is itself immeasurable, and the grand discloser of all things, but is itself undisclosed.
    CHARLES CALEB COLTON

    Time is the great physician.
    BENJAMIN DISRAELI

    Time is not composed of indivisible nows any more than any other magnitude is composed of indivisibles.
    ARISTOTLE

    Time is the best avenger.
    ELLA WHEELER WILCOX

    Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.
    JORGE LUIS BORGES

    Time is endless and ours. Love and Death are only the games we play in it.
    TANITH LEE

    Time is the father of mutability.
    SOLON

    Time is the root of all this earth;
    These creatures, who from Time had birth,
    Within his bosom at the end
    Shall sleep; Time hath nor enemy nor friend.
    BHARTRHARI

    Time is of your own making;
    Its clock ticks in your head.
    The moment you stop thought
    Time too stops dead.
    ANGELUS SILESIUS

    Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time” is to say “I don’t want to.”
    LAO TZU

    Time is a train
    Makes the future the past
    Leaves you standing in the station
    Your face pressed up against the glass
    U2

    Time is not a thing that passes … it’s a sea on which you float.
    MARGARET ATWOOD

    Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.
    JAMES JOYCE

    Time is a kind of river, an irresistible flood sweeping up men and events and carrying them headlong, one after the other, to the great sea of being.
    MARCUS AURELIUS

    Time is a face on the water.
    STEPHEN KING

    Time is for dragonflies and angels. The former live too little and the latter live too long.
    JAMES THURBER

    Time is a game played beautifully by children.
    HERACLITUS

    Time is a dream … a destroying dream;
    It lays great cities in dust, it fills the seas;
    It covers the face of beauty, and tumbles walls.
    CONRAD AIKEN

    What a slut time is. She screws everybody.
    JOHN GREEN

    Time isn’t made of anything. It is an abstraction. Just a meaning that we impose upon motion.
    ANNE CARSON

    1. You and I are yesterday’s answers,
      The Earth of the past, come to flesh,
      Eroded by Time’s rivers,
      To the shapes we now possess.

  4. My favorite is from a “Square One TV” episode, and it’s said by a hep-talking jazz musician –

    “Time? I don’t believe in Time – it’s an arbitrary invention of the Suits.”

    1. Melissa I loved EastEnders when I was stationed in Turkey from 1995-2000. It was on BBC America until around 2002-2003. It really pissed me off that they ended it. Now that I have BritBox, I can see it again when the episodes appear. I tried to find archives but have been unsuccessful.

  5. I thought we were headed to 1840 at first, as that was the only thing I knew that was coming up. (I had purchased the ‘1840 Flashback’ VHS tape and it was all I knew about 1970.) Parallel time thrilled me more, perhaps almost as much as it thrilled Barnabas.

    But even on first viewing I thought it odd that Julia and Eliot were chilling at a party while Barnabas was in a monthslong coma-trance.

      1. Jason B. wrote: I thought it odd that Julia and Eliot were chilling at a party while Barnabas was in a monthslong coma-trance.

        to which tony1956 responded: Where did you get this perception?

        Julia said the dinner she had with Stokes, where they discussed the theory of parallel time, was “last spring.” The “current” episode aired in March 1970, so “last spring” would have been early 1969. Which is when Barnabas, in an I-Ching trance, went to 1897. His 1969 body sat at a table in the Old House cellar from episode 701 (broadcast March 3, 1969) until episode 835 (broadcast Sept 5, 1969), when his 1969 body disappeared. For six months, Julia and Professor Stokes took turns “babysitting” Barnabas while he was in his trance. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got up to a lot more than just dinner & brandy & metaphysical conversation during all that time.

  6. I tried to post this yesterday, but my internet kept giving me an error message:

    “CONNECTION HAS PARALLEL TIMED OUT”

    Anyhow…
    Does anyone else find the weddings at Collinwood to be similar to the parties that Mary Richards gave on Mary Tyler Moore? Only without the audience laughter. More folks seem to show up for the funerals than for weddings! The biggest ones they’ve done were Barnabas & Josette, and that was a bust, and Liz & Jason, which also didn’t go off. What is with the Collins clan and dreary little marriage ceremonies?

  7. Didn’t you adore Barnabas’s expression when Julia reminded him that she might have been married and had children rather than pursuing the path she did: the path that brought them together?

    Awww. Barnabas 💘’s Julia so much! And you know she only provoked him thusly to assess his response because she has clearly soul-deep in ❤ with him from the very beginning.

    (Parallel time Cole is a Jularnabus shipper. Hmm …er…Barnalia?)

    1. Did you see the look on his face when Julia said she had dinner with Stokes and they were talking over a brandy? Barnabas knows he loves him some Julia. She played it just right.

  8. This is the show where medical people once took patients’ “pulse beats” until somebody told them it’s just “pulse.” Here we have alternate “time bands” instead of “timelines.”

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